Properly disposing of certain kinds of waste must involve medical waste incinerators. Their use is not subjective or optional. There are federal and state guidelines that dictate exactly what type of waste needs to be incinerated and how exactly you (as the generator) need to go about storing, transporting, and disposing of that waste. If you're unaware of these laws—or simply misunderstand their rules—you are still liable to fines and other related penalties, so it's of the utmost importance that you know everything you can associated with the medical waste incineration process.

What Is a Medical Waste Incinerator?

In the world of generated medical waste, two of the most common disposal methods are incineration and autoclaving.

Whereas a medical waste autoclave runs at about 300 degrees (Fahrenheit) and sterilizes items through heated steam, an incinerator runs at 1,800 degrees.

When waste material emerges from an incinerator, all that is left is a bit of residue—also sometimes referred to as "ash" or "dust." In medical waste autoclaves, however, the items are still generally intact after the sterilization process.

What Kind of Waste Needs to Be in a Medical Waste Incinerator?

Not every type of generated waste requires incineration. However, if you're producing (or think you might produce) the following types of waste, incineration should be part of your waste disposal strategy:

  • Trace chemotherapy waste.
  • Pathological waste, including body parts and other biological tissues.
  • Some types of hazardous waste.

Red bag medical waste (bloody or otherwise contaminated materials, such as gauze, bandages, gowns, sharps, and so on) do not require incineration. Rather, these go through the autoclave process.

Note, trace chemotherapy and pathological waste streams are technically "regulated medical waste." However, they are not disposed of in the same manner as red bag waste.

What Happens to the Medical Waste Next?

Incineration is a critical step in the waste disposal process, but it's not the last one. After the incineration process, the resultant dust or ash must be shipped to a Subtitle D landfill, which is intended for non-hazardous waste.

After the incineration process, a certificate of destruction can be obtained. This document can serve as a kind of insurance policy if you are ever audited or need to otherwise prove that a particular waste stream was properly disposed of.

Some Common Mistakes Related to Medical Waste Disposal

Some facilities—in an effort to be better safe than sorry—send their red bag waste to incineration. This is not necessary (and costs needless money). An autoclaving machine renders all red bag medical waste perfectly safe for disposal.

This is one reason working with a medical waste management company can really benefit you. You'll know with certainty that your disposal methods are both cost effective and legally compliant.

Another similar area of uncertainty relates to hazardous and non-hazardous pharmaceuticals. Again, many people end up simply incinerating all pharmaceuticals that require disposal in an attempt to ensure compliance. This is a perfectly acceptable (and safe) method, but it does lead to unnecessary cost. If people worked with medical waste management companies, they'd be more likely to properly identify what needed to go for incineration and what did not.

This is not, however, a place to cut corners or take chances. The risks—and fines—associated with improperly disposing of waste that is intended for incineration are steep. If you're not working with a waste disposal professional, better safe than sorry is always a smarter path than risk it and face fines (or worse).

What Role Do State Laws Play with the Incineration of Medical Waste?

In general, federal law dictates what you must incinerate and how you must legally go about that. However, each individual state is simply required to meet the minimum stipulations as set out in those federal laws. This means any given state can be more stringent than the overarching federal law requires.

For example, some states require that waste destroyed though an autoclave machine be subsequently shredded after sterilization. Other states, such as Georgia, don't require such steps and are still fully complying with all federal regulations.

This is yet another important reason to reach out to a local waste management company. If you're a generator and unsure of every federal and state law to which your business is held accountable, professional advice could offer peace of mind and savings.

For more information about how incineration works or what type of waste should be subject to it, please feel free to contact a representative of MCF Environmental Services, a waste management company located near Atlanta, Georgia